I’ve been asked a lot about a couple of articles that have been making the rounds. In one, a woman says that she’s decided to have weight loss surgery after her interaction with an online fat hate group. In another a young girl had surgery to pin her ears back, from a plastic surgeon who created a non-profit dedicated to performing this procedure. He says “This isn’t just free cosmetic surgery – this is a charity that helps combat bullying secondary to having large ears.” People have been asking me what I think about this.
First and foremost, people are allowed to make these choices (because Underpants Rule!) If someone wants to have a perfectly healthy organ amputated, or have a surgery to change their ears they are allowed to do that, as a way to try to satisfy their bullies or for any other reason.
From a more meta analysis, I’m always troubled by the idea that the solution to bullying is for the person being bullied to change. I’m concerned when the “solution” to bullying is to give the bullies what they want – not just because it’s not fair to the person being bullied, but also because many people being bullied aren’t able to change.
Often when people – including laypeople, medical professionals, policy-makers, and especially drug/diet/medical companies trying to profit from this – discuss reasons that they believe fat people should try to be thin, one of the reasons that they include is the stigma, bullying, and oppression that fat people face. Except the problem isn’t that we’re fat, the problem is that we’re stigmatized (often thanks to the drug/diet/medical companies profiting from this) and the solution is to end stigma, bullying and oppression of fat people, not to end the existence of fat people.
Going back to the doctor’s quote, he says “this is a charity that helps combat bullying.” That’s simply not true. It’s not combating bullying at all, it’s accommodating bullies by changing their victims (through a painful process) to look how the bullies want them to look.
When people suggest that those being bullied should change themselves, what they are really saying is “that bully has a point – there is something wrong with your ears/body/haircolor/sexual orientation/whatever” Go ahead and fix that. Of course then they’ll start bullying you about something else so please feel free to start a savings account for all the surgeries your’re going to need.
To combat bullying we must create an environment where bullying behavior is unacceptable, not where it’s a good reason to undergo surgery. We need to stop saying that the solution to bullying and stigma lies with changing the victims and not the perpetrators.
In my life when I’ve spoken out about the bullying, harassment and oppression that I’ve experienced because I’m fat, often people have said “Why don’t you do something about it.” Meaning that I should become thin so that people didn’t treat me poorly for being fat. I’m calling bullshit on that, I’m “doing something about it” and for me that means standing up and speaking out, not trying to squeeze myself into the mold my bullies made for me. I’m not the problem, they are.
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